I’ll be honest, my love of strategy/management games began a long time ago and is still a fundamental “soft spot” in my gaming soul.  Both real-time and turn-based strategy games, as well as management sims; for some reason, I love them.  I’ve been keeping up generally with “Surviving Mars”, seeing what folks thought, following development, and watching as the game went through beta and was fully released.  When it came up as a giveaway on a game subscription site I belong to, coinciding with the release of its first DLC, “Green Planet”, I finally got my hands on a copy.

And I was not disappointed.  The goal of Surviving Mars is to establish a living, advanced society on Mars, complete with education complexes for your newborns and children, entertainment facilities, manufacturing, food production, and everything else necessary to provide your colonists a high quality of life.  Each play through also has a “mystery” that unfolds gradually for the player to discover and navigate, like a mini campaign or story.  Some are entertaining while others are downright ruthless.  You also must keep an eye on the colonist’s sanity and morale; a low morale will cause colonists to start committing crimes, while a decrease in sanity will cause them to, well, go crazy and begin sabotaging facilities or taking hostages. 

The tutorial was sound, if a bit lacking in certain details.  The graphics and music were smooth and soothing.  The game play mostly made sense.  There were lots of options for research to help advance your society and technical acumen.  Some natural disasters would occur, but you can choose your landing spot anywhere on the Red (for now at least!) Planet to minimize the impact on your personal play through, though the threats never fully go away.  The landing site will also dictate how prevalent natural resources are in the general surrounding area.  There are also many options at the beginning of the game to choose from that will give the player distinct advantages or, if so desired, handicaps. 

When starting your first play through you can easily feel overwhelmed by all the options available when setting up your scenario.  You start out with your Mission Setup (unless you decide to play the tutorial – highly recommended!).  As you go through changing the settings, there is a list of the effects your selections will have on the game, as well as a summation of how difficult the game will be.  For example, you have many different options for your Mission Sponsor.  The IMM (International Mars Mission) sponsor will give you tons of money, lots of research points, lots of rockets for transporting colonists and materials, and other benefits, so that is one of the easier sponsors.  The rest of the setup continues in the same vein, where you choose your profile and other overall rules you can adjust.  Some of the latter do turn off achievements, so be careful.

One other portion of the setup is the “Mystery” selection I mentioned before.  Some of these are easy to deal with, while others are quite difficult and can quickly reduce your colony to ashes if you are caught unprepared.  As I’ve played through a few times to completion of the mysteries and research trees, I’ve encountered both, and yes, lost an entire colony once in a matter of minutes.  That was a frustrating play through, but still it was all on me, as I made some pretty risky decisions that did not, as it turns out, pay off.

All in all, I’ve truly enjoyed Surviving Mars.  If you’re like me and have a love of management sims, this is a great game and I highly recommend checking it out.  I have yet to experiment with the DLC “Green Planet” but look forward to the challenge.

You want some tips?  Sure, I’ll tell you what’s been good for me.

  • TAKE YOUR TIME! You start off with just machines, and there are no real requirements other than what you impose on yourself, so feel free to relax and explore.  If you bring colonists down too soon, you won’t be prepared to take care of them and you’ll spend lots of money bringing in supply pods with materials to take care of them.
  • Don’t get hung up on specializations. It’s not great to have a scientist running your farm or an engineer working at an infirmary but they’ll get the job done, albeit a bit less efficiently.  And something is much better than nothing.
  • Familiarize yourself with quarantines. Not the bad ones for sickness, but you can set up your domes to allow or deny certain ages and specializations.  So, set up a dome (this is mid game stuff, by the way) specifically for training and schools, and deny all the other domes to allow children.  That way, a child is born and shipped out to the “Education” dome automatically, brought up, and taught whatever specialization (scientist, medic, botanist, etc) you are lacking.  Then deny the Ed-dome to kick out those specializations, and those trained up colonists will be shipped back to the other domes where they’re most needed.  All this on auto-pilot.
  • PAY ATTENTION TO MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS! At first, it’s not a huge thing to need three or four machine parts to maintain your wind turbines.  But after you build 20 of them, it really starts taking a toll on your supply.  So be aware of what the maintenance needs are, and how much you can easily produce with your various factories and engineers.
  • Watch for placement bonuses. Wind turbines get a nice bonus on power generation for being built up on higher elevations.  Sensor towers GREATLY increase the speed at which you can survey new areas in closer proximity on your map (and these bonuses for the towers stack!).  Be sure to pay attention to these bonuses because they can really ease your life!
  • Pipes: One pipe can carry Oxygen, Water, and Fuel; they don’t have to all have separate pipes (this was something I found out in my second playthrough, and made things so much easier!).
  • Last tip: Tunnels are great for accessing different elevations, and they can be a conduit for power and life support to help expand your colony.

There are tons more that I could give, but I’ll let you figure them out.  Happy colonizing!

Final Score: 4.25/5

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